Okay, so we have an Australian team in transition. No problems. Good for the game and good for our collective souls. Beating England only feels good after you have lost to them once in a while. A bit like Collingwood or (insert hated opposition team name here) Flogging sides, even England, is just plain dull. Which brings me to this Ashes series. In a weird, masochistic sort of way, Lords was a great personal experience. Re-living my adolescent Ashes memories with my sons was more important to me than the result. Let me explain. In ’81, when I should have been studying my HSC, I opted for some late-night Ashes marathons instead. Willis and Botham destroying Australia at Headingly was perhaps the nadir of that experience. Can you believe that Lillee and Marsh won an outrageously small fortune by betting against Australia on that result – during the game? For our younger readers, it should be pointed out that Lillee and Marsh were also playing in the match. I am sure the Ashes cost me more than a few marks. History shows that England gained momentum from their famous win at Headingly and Australia could not stand it its way. For those whose memories of cricket stretch back as far as say Tubby Taylor, you are now experiencing the kind of disbelief I had way back in ’81 So last week, my son Peter (doing VCE) and I watched Mitch and co implode at Lords. Cocky Englishmen everywhere. Commentators, spectators, even neutral umpires all part of the conspiracy. It was a cathartic experience in a kind of way. Pete at least had the good sense to head to bed – which is probably just as well as he would have seen is old man throwing muffins (with Vegimite) at the tube.
So now, in between games, my attention turns to those other great sports, selection conspiracy theories, anti-Victorian bias and just for good measure, that old chestnut, the Art of Captaincy. Now I should say upfront (there is always a disclaimer) that I think that the Aussies should still prevail and that Lords was a once-off. (Come to think of it, I thought the same about Headingly too). Of course Punter will do enough to retain the treasured Urn. But in case we lose, I want to get this up now so as a statement of record. If we win, well it will not matter, and my opinion will be forgotten quicker than you can say Peter Roebuck.
Lets get back to some basics. Cricket is not about sport, winning or losing. Its about humility. One of the best qualities in any person. And cricket dishes it out lashings of it. Cocksure players get grounded as soon as they get ahead of themselves. That is why god invented Rudi Kurtzen for example. And speaking of god, like the West Indies before it, Australia has thumbed its nose at the cricketing gods for way too long. And those gods are not happy. They punished the West Indies big-time for their arrogance and I suspect they are about to do the same with Australia. But rather than cursing the Australian game with mediocre players like they did with the West Indies (strike anyone?), our pennance is going to be paid for through more discreet means, via Agents, and well placed media leaks – well you know what I mean. Lets look at the evidence.
Exhibit A: At a news conference last week Shane Watson declared he had the game to open the innings for Australia. Honestly Watto? At this stage, Phil Hughes had not been dropped (a check of his Twitter profile would have confirmed this), and so you had a bloke with little more than a few runs in a minor County game and no Shield cred, publicly undermining a young guy with bona fide credentials (two test tons in one game for starters) presumably with the blessing of the team management. Now I don’t have too many problems with the Watto selection as much as some people, but one thing is clear. Watto has learned from his mistakes. After toiling manfully in India, he willingly surrendered his spot to Symonds and had the good grace to let that sorry saga unfold minus any press conferences or grand statements, and simply bide his time. Unfortunately his generosity did not extend as far as Hughes. Probably the most ordinary moment in recent Australian cricket history. The fact that he got runs as an opener in the last test does NOT mitigate that effort.
Exhibit B: Prior to the coin toss before the first test, Stuey (I am fit and ready to go and expect to be on that Plane to the West Indies) McGill said that he had heard a ‘nasty’ rumor that Andrew McDonald might even be selected. Nasty? Wasn’t McDonald an integral member of a team that won three out of four games when he played? Two of which were live rubbers and defining games during this transition period! Ahhh,but what a difference a few months makes (especially for rehabilitating NSW fast bowlers) Fortunately Hoggy, in one of the great presence of mind moments in live Australian TV, put Stuey back in his place. When Watto bowled arguably three of the worst overs in change up bowling by an Australian, even Stuey’s mind may have been thinking about the merits of a medium pace ‘spot’ bowler holding up and end and working to English conditions. Now who for NSW can we pluck out of County cricket?
Exhibit C: Why does the Sheffield Shield exist? Not for the gate receipts (it costs more to count the money than the value of the currency itself), not for the live TV viewing audience (there isn’t one), not for friends and relatives (they don’t go either). It exists so that performing players can earn the right to play for their country. Sometimes that right is extended to potential (Warnie, Hughes, Healey -sorry Dimma, but it was stacked against you) which is okay. So the Vics dominate the entire Summer season in all three games. Fortunately they grab the only prize that matters. They do this without conceding a point. Good positive cricket justly rewarded. If Siddle is dropped, that would mean the best domestic team has how many players in the test team? Zero. Now I know that it is not that simple. Team v Individual etc, but really. At least pretend to pick a balanced squad for the Ashes (a reserve batsmen is usually a good idea). Instead we went for unfit, ageing backups with little cricket to back them up – sorry Brett IPL doesn’t count. If Mike Whitney can be plucked from minor county cricket to play test cricket, Chris Rogers can too. Another win for the AFL. Talented cricketers in Vic either have to go to other States or more likely take the footy option.
Exhibit D: Let’s call a spade a spade. Mitch should have been dropped after Lords. It’s no disgrace that you cannot master English conditions (Doug Walters ring a bell to anyone?), his bowling was D-grade rubbish. In that game, Ben H and Siddle are the only two fast bowling options. Siddle has to over compensate, expected to be both the strike and containing bowler all at the same time. Punter backs Mitch, Mitch bowls a few decent overs in the next test, and now Punter (and the Press Corps) are gunning for Siddle! Punter is showing that his backing of Marcus North to bowl at the death in Cardiff was no once off. Punter, why the selective backing? Why do the bowlers pay – how about Mike Hussey? In the first test, Siddle ended the test career of Ravi Bopara (he just doesn’t know it yet) in about 15 minutes. He put Swan back where he belonged, and when Freddie was helping himself off Watto in the last test, Siddle was giving Freddie some of his own back at the other end. I want a bloke like that in my team. Leave him in the side.
Exhibit E: Captaincy. Warnie, you blew it. You should be Captaining your country now. And Punter should be enjoying the accolades of being one of the greatest batsmen in history. Instead the ‘generous and fair minded’ English crowds acknowledge his considerable achievements with booing! Improve the body language Rick. Match your deeds with some inspiring moves, and even enjoy it for goodness sake. I watched Cameron White’s body language during the Australian Twenty 20 Comp last summer. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there. Here was the Captain of the best T20 side in the Country just begging to help Punter with his field placings, bowling change ups and the lot. But he was helpless. I suspect Cameron is not alone.